In 2021, We the People need a Public Chair to ask the White House public questions and pose petitions

Today, the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the White House is open to bringing back the “Skype seat” again and to taking questions from it. Psaki noted she took Q’s on Twitter — she then replied to … Continue reading

Open letter on open government to Press Secretary Psaki and White House officials

Dear Secretary Psaki and the Office of the Press Secretary, My name is Alexander B Howard; you may have noticed me tweeting at you this past couple months during the transition and now the administration. I came to DC over … Continue reading

Why Twitter and Facebook were right to ban President Trump

An overwhelming majority of tech experts surveyed by the Washington Post said that social media companies were correct to suspend former President Donald J. Trump’s accounts after the failed putsch at the U.S. Capitol. That includes me: while the most … Continue reading

In a dual crisis of of pandemic and protest, DC extends “vote-by-email” to people who requested an absentee ballot

Digital democracy reforms tends to advance or retreat in fits and starts, but when exigent circumstances require more from us and our governments, change can happen unexpectedly. On May 26, I requested an absentee ballot, intending to cast my vote … Continue reading

The US government should preserve the social media histories of officials, not delete them

This week, a new Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took the oath of office, but not the access credentials for @FDACommissioner on Twitter. Instead, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn began tweeting at @SteveFDA, after FDA staff changed the … Continue reading

Snapchat’s political ad disclosure once again shows the limits of self-regulation

Like Google, Facebook and Twitter, Snapchat now has an online political ad library. That’s good news: every technology company that accept money to run issues and campaign ads should have a political ad file – particularly one that has aspirations … Continue reading

Tolerating violations of the Hatch Act undermines the rule of law in the USA

In a world where corruption and maladministration allow injustice, tolerate criminality, or even lead to avoidable deaths, what public officials do on social media can fly under the radar as a matter deserving public attention. And yet, the United States … Continue reading

White House to host “social media summit” to advance conspiracy theory about ideological bias

In May 2019, a new White House campaign to collect data on social media bias is raising free speech and privacy alarms – and the Trump administration has been far less than transparent about the project’s purpose or the policies … Continue reading

NBC’s sprawling 10-person debates show why a foundering TV format needs to be rebooted for the Internet Age

There’s no shortage of commentary from partisans, pundits, politicians, and political reporters about who “won” or “lost” last night’s Democratic presidential debate on NBC News, honing in on how the candidates performed, rose, fell, responded or rebutted one another, or … Continue reading

Sunshine and comity featured at US House Modernization Committee hearing

On May 10, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress in the United States House of Representatives held a hearing on “opening up the process,” at which 4 different experts talked with Congress about making legislative information more transparent,” from ongoing efforts to proposed reforms to the effect of sunshine laws passed decades ago.

If you’re not up to speed on this committee, it was established on January 4, 2019 the House voted in favor of establishing the Select Committee by an overwhelming margin (418-12) by adopting of Title II of H.Res.6, the Rules of the House of Representatives for the One Hundred Sixteenth Congress, with a sole authority of investigating, studying, holding public hearings, making finding, and developing recommendations to modernize Congress – but no legislative jurisdiction nor ability to take legislative action. The committee has has been fairly described by IssueOne as “the best opportunity in decades” for Congress to improve itself, by looking inward.

The two hours of discussion on May 10 mostly added up to good news for good government, with useful summaries of progress opening up Congress to date from the deputy clerk of the House, proposed recommendations and reforms from GovTrack founder Josh Tauberer and DemandProgress policy director Daniel Schuman that would build on that progress, and some skepticism of sunshine in the legislative process from University of Maryland professor Frances Lee.

I attended the hearing and tweeted from it, as has been my practice for nearly a decade in DC:

The thread of tweets above, however is not meant to be comprehensive, nor could it be fully contextualized in the moment. For that, watch the hearing on YouTube, in the video embedded below:

…and read a summary of the hearing from the Congressional Institute, reporting from Federal Computer Week on “transparency through technology” and Roll Call on ongoing development of an “artificial intelligence engine” (applying machine-learning to structured legislative data), and the latest edition of Demand Progress’ First Branch Forecast, in which Schuman summarizes his testimony and aspects of the hearing.

He and Tauberer recommended from appointing a legislative branch Chief Data Officer, releasing structured data that would feed into the clerk’s tool to show how proposed amendments would change bills, and enact a mandate and open standards for a unique identifier for lobbyists across the U.S. government. Whether those ideas make it into the committee’s recommendations remains to be seen, but they’re worth weighing – along with further studying of the value or risk of increasing or decreasing public access to various aspects of the deliberative processes that constitute legislative and oversight activities.

On a meta note, the process on display at this forum was notable for comity between witnesses and members, openness to the public and press, and engagement online.

The medium is still the message, when it comes showing (not telling) how open a given institution is.

While paying attention to the digital component has become downright mundane in 2019, the Committee demonstrated admirable competence, streaming the hearing online at YouTube, publicized it on social media prior to the event, engaged with the public during the hearing, and published testimony on its website afterwards. (Unfortunately, there’s no text transcription of the hearing on the hearing page. Given the committee’s acknowledgement of the importance of accessibility, it should make sure to get transcripts online.)

As at the most recent “Congressional hackathons,” Members of Congress were able to show good government, ethics and transparency, far away from partisan rancor over white hot political issues or Congressional attempts to conduct constitutional oversight of a corrupt administration.

If you’re interested in following the activities of the committee or providing feedback, visit Modernizecongress.House.gov and scrub in: the People’s House will only be as open, accessible, accountable, and effective as we make it – or demand it to be. There’s no one else coming to help.